Native Utahn Elizabeth A. Moler was overwhelmingly endorsed Wed-nes-day to become the No. 2 official at the Energy Department by the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

Nineteen of its 20 members voted to endorse Moler. The other, Sen. Rod Grams, R-Minn., voted "present."Grams personally praised Moler. But he said he cast the "present" vote anyway to signal his displeasure with how the Clinton administration is handling a variety of energy issues, including nuclear waste storage.

Her nomination now goes to the full Senate.

During her confirmation hearing last week, Committee Chairman Frank Murkowski praised Moler, who once was an aide to the committee, as "qualified and competent."

At the hearing, Sen. Wendell Ford, D-Ky., also said, "I don't think the president could find a person of better character and integrity to serve as deputy secretary of Energy."

Moler has served since 1988 on the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which regulates interstate gas and power lines, hydroelectric dams and other energy facilities. She has been its chairwoman since 1993.

Last year, she was almost nominated to become Clinton's secretary of Energy. Clinton aides even leaked to the press that he was about to make that announcement.

However, Clinton changed his mind when he discovered he had no Hispanics on his second-term Cabinet - and was under pressure by Hispanic groups to include at least one. So, he nominated Federico Pena to the post. Pena will now be Moler's boss.

Clinton defended that choice, saying the move was important to show people of all races have a role in serving their country.